What did Jesus teach about the Sabbath?

The purpose of this page is to analyze what Jesus taught about the Sabbath; to determine what work is allowed on the Sabbath and even what work must be performed on the Sabbath.

DAVID AND HIS MEN

In defense of His disciples, when they were accused of breaking the Sabbath by picking and eating grain while walking through a grain field, Jesus used the example of David and his men who, when they also were hungry, ate the temple bread which only priests were permitted to eat.  The principle that can be drawn from this analogy is that the real needs of people are more important than the Sabbath.  Just like the David’s hunger was more important than the prescripts with respect to the temple bread, the disciples’ hunger was more important than that the Sabbath.  Man is therefore allowed to perform work on the Sabbath if that work will provide relief to his own distress and suffering, such as hunger.

PRIESTS IN THE TEMPLE

In the same incident Christ furthermore referred to the priests who “break the Sabbath” by working in the temple, but remain without guilt because they did this work in God’s service (Mat. 12:5-6).

For instance, on the Sabbath the priests baked bread (Ex. 16:23; 1 Sam. 21:3-6) to replace the week-old bread of the presence (Lev. 24:8; 1 Chr. 9:32) and performed many other tasks related to the maintenance of the temple and sacrificial system. The same labor in a secular context would not be allowed on the Sabbath.

Christ then applied this principle to His disciples by saying, “something greater than the temple is here” (Matt. 12:6).  He was referring to Himself as “something greater than the temple” (compare Mat. 12:41, 42).  The temple and its services were mere symbols of Christ and His mission.  By comparing Himself to the temple He was, by implication, saying that the disciples were equivalent to priests serving in the temple, who are allowed to work on the Sabbath.  While His disciples were with Him, they were in God’s service for the redemption of sinners, just like the priest work in the temple for the redemption of sinners.

The principle is that work is allowed on the Sabbath if that work has to be done while in God’s service for the redemption of sinners.

MADE FOR MAN

Also in the same incident Christ also said:

the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

He said this because the Jews, through their traditions, made man the servant of the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was created for man’s benefit (Gen. 2:3); for man’s welfare and happiness.  It must serve man’s needs.  That is why real human needs are more important than the Sabbath.  Wearisome rules with respect to the Sabbath, which prevent people from satisfying their hunger, defeats and perverts the Sabbath’s intended purpose.

LORD OF THE SABBATH

Christ concluded His arguments in the grain-eating incident by saying:

so the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).

The word “so” means that the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath because the Sabbath was made for man (v. 27).  The title “Son of Man” comes from Daniel 7:13-14, where “One like a Son of Man”—this is Jesus—receives “everlasting dominion” over “all the peoples, nations and men of every language”.

Putting these thoughts together, since the Sabbath is part of man’s existence, and since Jesus is Lord over man, He is also Lord of the Sabbath.

But why was it necessary for Christ to say that He is “Lord even of the Sabbath”?  Some propose that He said it to indicate that He will change or abrogate the Sabbath, but there is no indication of this in the context.  To the contrary, His previous statement that “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27) implies that the Sabbath will remain for as long as man exists.

It is proposed here that He said that He is “Lord even of the Sabbath” not to say something about the Sabbath, but to say something about Himself.  In the same context He also said that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10), that “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father” (Mat 11:27) and that He is “greater than the temple”, “greater than Jonah” and “greater than Solomon” (Mat. 12:6, 41, 42).  The statement “so the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” therefore explains who Jesus is.

TO DO GOOD

Jesus justified the healing of the man’s withered hand by saying that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12).  To “do good” is to assist people or animals that are in distress.  The example of David above shown that man is allowed to work on the Sabbath to relief his own distress.  By saying that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” Jesus taught that man is also allowed to work on the Sabbath to relief the distress of other people. This example also teaches that disease and illness, even chronic illness are counted as “real needs” or “distress”.

TO FREE FROM THE BONDS OF SATAN

In His justification of the healing of the crippled woman He used the word luein, which means to free.  He used this word three times, but these words are translated differently in each case.  He first said to the woman, “Woman, you are freed (luein) from your sickness” (Luke 13:12).  After the synagogue official responded with anger (v14), Jesus used the example of an ox or donkey that is untied (luein) and lead away to water on the Sabbath (v15).  Lastly He justified her healing by saying:

And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released (luein) from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (v16)

This incident confirms that work is allowed on the Sabbath if that work is to address the real needs of people.  This example also expands on the definition of man’s real needs for which work is allowed on the Sabbath, namely:

  • Illness, even from chronic illness;
  • Thirst (and therefore other basic needs, such as hunger, shelter and clothes);
  • Bonds of Satan;

JOHN

The gospel of John records the Sabbath healings of a man that was an epileptic for 38 years (John 5) and a man that was born blind (John 9).  We find no direct statements in this gospel explaining why healing is allowed on the Sabbath.  Christ’s justifications are limited to more general statements, such as:

My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (5:17).

“the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (5:19).    Out of his love for the Son, the Father “shows him all things he himself is doing” (5:20).

If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?” (7:23).

We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (9:4-5).

I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” (10:32)

The words work, “working”, “do”, “doing” and “does” link these statements to the works of healing which He performed on the Sabbath.  We therefore from John that:

  • To heal on the Sabbath was something that Christ received from the Father.
  • Healing is “good works from the Father” (10:32);
  • To make “man well” (7:23), physically and spiritually, is allowed on the Sabbath.

All work necessary on the Sabbath to accomplish the Father’s purpose to redeem and restore man is in harmony with the Sabbath.

THE PURPOSE OF THE SABBATH

Healing is not only allowed on the Sabbath; it is the very purpose of the Sabbath.  This is implied by the following:

The large number of Sabbath healing miracles that are recorded in the gospels implies that Christ considered the Sabbath as the most appropriate day for healing..

In healing the crippled woman, He said: “this woman … whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)  He seems to be saying that the Sabbath is the preferred day for healing chronically ill people.

CONCLUSION

Work that is allowed on the Sabbath, according to Christ, can be divided into three categories.

Firstly, work that is allowed on the Sabbath, namely to provide relief for distress and suffering.  Since “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27) and since “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12), man is allowed to work on the Sabbath if that work will relieve the distress and suffering of people or animals, even his own distress and suffering, even if the suffering began prior to the Sabbath. Distress includes thirst and hunger, and therefore other basic needs, such as shelter, safety and clothes.

Secondly, work that is our duty on the Sabbath, namely work to restore man spiritually and physically / to make man well.  This includes to heal people from disease and illness, even chronic illness, and to release people from Satan’s physical and spiritual bonds.  This work is not only allowed on the Sabbath; the Sabbath is the preferred day for such work, as indicated by the following:

To justify His healing miracles in John 5 and in John 9, He said, “the Father is working still” (5:17) and “we must work” (9:4).  The “we must work” directly contradicts the Sabbath commandment “you shall not do any work” (Deut. 5:14).  But the work which Jesus spoke about was specifically work for man’s spiritual and physical restoration.  Jesus did not say “we may work”.  He said “we must work”.  This means it is our duty to do this work on the Sabbath.

We find the same idea in the healing of the crippled woman, when Jesus asked: And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released (luein) from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)  This question implies that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day to release or free somebody, and therefore that the purpose of the seventh day is to free people from the bonds of Satan—which includes physical illnesses.  Since Satan also bounds people psychologically and spiritually, we can conclude that the purpose of the seventh day is to free people from the physical, psychological or spiritual bonds of Satan.

A third indication of this concept is found in the many Sabbath healing miracles, which are recorded in the gospels.  None of these miracles was an emergency.  Neither was He explicitly asked to perform these miracles.  The large number of Sabbath healing miracles imply that the Sabbath is the preferred day for healing. This implies that the purpose of the Sabbath is to restore man.  Anything that we can do to restore people to health, holistically defined, is not only allowed, but the very purpose of the seventh day, and our duty to perform.

Thirdly, related to the second, work that is allowed when one is in God’s service for the redemption of sinners, even if that work is not primarily or directly to redeem, but required for that purpose, for instance the work of the priests in the temple and the disciples picking grain on the Sabbath.

The work that is allowed and required on the Sabbath is therefore work for the benefit of man and beast.  It is a day to recover and to restore.  The Sabbath is the day on which man should expect supernatural healing.

Sabbath: Table of Contents

Next: Jesus taught a different Sabbath.

6 thoughts on “What did Jesus teach about the Sabbath?”

  1. Good explanation on what can and should be done on the Sabbath, and what cannot and should not be done on the sabbath.

  2. Splendid, and to think that we have robbed others and ourselves of the blessings of Sabbath services to the most needed in our communities. For a long time, many of us have been taught the long list of don’ts that the Pharisees insisted on. They got in trouble with Jesus, aren’t we destined to do the same if we continue on that same course. Jesus’ way is THE WAY.

  3. Good stuff indeed, we really need such information because most of people don’t know what must be done on the sabbath and should not be done.
    I like the statement that says ”the sabbath was made for man”. and that means man can be blessed on sabbath, healed, restored, delivered.

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